That really is a tricky one. After having absolutely adored "The time traveller's wife" and being inspired by my recent visit of Highgate cemetery I finally started reading Niffeneggers second novel "Her fearful symmetry". First of all a plot summary taken from amazon.com:
When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers--with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including--perhaps--their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life--even after death.
I finished the book late last night and I hardly ever feel/felt so much in two minds about a novel as this time. The atmosphere, the setting, the writing - it all convinced me and made me wanna read on and on. The descriptions of Highgate itself are a bit as if you would be on a tour again. In front of my inner eye I have a clear image of Vautravers House and I can't wait to explore more of Highgate and the cemetery again.
The characters are more or less the first big letdown. They are often one-dimensional (especially the heroines) and seem to be too unreal and cold to allow the reader to sympathise with them. I'm sure it would have helped if e.g. Robert would have had some "real" young and ordinary friends out of flesh and blood, the twins would have had jobs and hobbies and if Elspeth would have been presented as a bit more friendly and likeable character. They all seemed so out of this world but lacking colour and life to be convincing.
It is next to impossible to criticize the plot without spoiling it for future readers. Just saying so much: It starts ok, has some interesting twists, starts some threads without dealing with them proper, comes to some rushed and weird conclusions and towards the ends results in a big knot of implausible, naive and stupid facts and twists. Do the twins have friends in the US? Why is Julia interested in helping Martin?? Why does Elspeth give in to Valentina's wish??? Why does it end as it ends????
Why on earth no one of the editors involved saved Niffenegger from that crashlanding we will probably never know... I'm sure the friends of Highgate don't wanna see her about as a tourguide after that again...let's wait for novel number 3.
Strangely I quite enjoyed reading it and never was at the point of giving up on it but what was roughly the last quarter of the story left me wondering "wtf?!?" more than once...A shame to have wasted the eloquent descriptions and dense atmosphere for a plot like this!